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Minneapolis College Breaks Down Barriers to Learning to Help Students With Great Potential

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Students With Learning Disabilities Can Thrive With a Little Help and the Right Technology

“What do Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison and approximately 20 percent of students have in common?”, asks Adrian Hirsch, writing for the School News Network. They all needed to develop different approaches towards learning, and in some cases, this can actually encourage other skills.

A point well made.

Research by the National Centre for Learning Disabilities in 2014 found that within eight years of leaving high school, more than half of young adults with learning disabilities don’t consider themselves to have a disability. When college years are supposed to be some of the best in your life, how can it be that young people with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, are made to feel discriminated against in this way, and what can be done to address it?

Approximately 20 per cent of students’ approach learning in different ways due to dyslexia and other cognitive disabilities and supporting these differences can help nurture exceptional young minds.

Take a look at the graphic representation of what it’s like to read when you have dyslexia, produced by graphic designer Dan Britton last year; the visual isn’t what a dyslexia sufferer sees but it is an accurate representation of the time it takes students to read text. That gives a good idea of how challenging student life can be for people with dyslexia, and makes it unsurprising that students with disabilities like these find it harder to access education.

A College Making a Difference

At Augsburg College, MN they are making additional investment in technology to support students with learning disabilities. The College is respected nationally for its emphasis on direct, personal learning, with volunteering in the community as a requirement of students’ coursework. It is also recognized as a leader in providing services to students with physical or learning disabilities, and this focus has led it to explore the benefits of new audio note taking technology in a bid to increase student’s access to information.

There is a large number of students who struggle to write, read, interpret, and analyse information gathered in lectures. Their level of intelligence may be above average, but because they struggle with the traditional college notetaking format, they may fail to reach their potential. These students become increasingly frustrated because they are struggling to access the course lecture material effectively.

There have been many discussions across the education sector, around whether learning to overcome challenges such as dyslexia actually results in increased skills in other areas. It’s a fair assumption, and one shared by many notable, highly successful people with dyslexia.

A 2005 study found that one in three American entrepreneurs are identified as dyslexic, while others have shown that “people with this disability tend to excel at detecting patterns and grasping the bigger picture,” said Richard Branson, Author and Founder of Virgin Group in an article for Entrepreneur Magazine on turning disadvantages around to your advantage. Entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Ted Turner and Charles Schwab all had dyslexia.

The Solution

As Rachel Kruzel, head of the CLASS Office’s Groves Technology Lab, at Augsburg College, Minnesota explains, “by removing possible barriers to higher education at Augsburg College we hope to reach and help students that may have found education more difficult, which could help them go on to innovate and invent where they previously may have disengaged from their education. And the number of students is not insignificant.”

The college has approximately 5 per cent of their student body with a learning disability like dyslexia (dyspraxia) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In addition to the college’s population, 15 per cent of the US population has one of these disabilities too. This is a large number of people that need additional support when it comes to reading and writing in school or in an employment setting. It’s not a small number of people we can overlook; a large part of our population needs tools to support them.

The decision for Augsburg to invest in Sonocent’s Audio Notetaker software was an easy one. As a leader in the field of improving accessibility for all students, regardless of their needs, the college always tries to stay on the cutting edge of technology to support their students. Rachel explains, “this software allows students to record lectures so they can focus on the content and discussion, rather than write notes. Usually, this is a challenge for a student with dyslexia or ADHD. In addition to recording the lecture, Audio Notetaker has tools to help visually organize their notes. Students can color code recorded audio segments, prioritize information, tag, and save related presentations and data so they have all the information in manageable sections. They can interpret their notes in their own time, in their own preferred way.”

The differences in learning styles have been well documented by experts over the years, and the functionality of the software owes its roots to clever strategies that dyslexia sufferers often develop to help circumvent challenges caused by their disorder.  “My dyslexia guided the way we communicated with customers,” wrote Richard Branson in his Entrepreneur article. “When we launched a new company, I made sure that I was shown the ads and marketing materials. I asked those presenting the campaign to read everything aloud, in order to test the phrasing and the overall concept.”

Rachel concludes, “the benefit to our students has been significant. But the efforts certainly don’t end there. We will continue on a daily basis to find new and innovative ways to support each of our student’s specific learning needs, to insure every students realizes their potential.”

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